Apple’s AirPlay wireless technology has been around for a while now, and, although I don’t use it every day, I do use it quite often to run content from my iPad or iPhone through Apple TV and onto my big screen TV.
The first purely AirPlay connected speaker I’ve tested is iHome’s under $200 CAD iW3 the newest in their line of AirPlay speakers that also includes the iW1 and iW2. I’ve tried out plenty of Bluetooth speakers and have to say that I’ve always liked them, but with Bluetooth you’re restricted to only one speaker at a time. With AirPlay, you can play content on as many AirPlay capable speakers as you want, so you can use it for playing your content all around the house.
Because it relies on Wi-Fi, you obviously can’t use an AirPlay speaker system when in an area without Wi-Fi. That’s a “doh” statement to be sure, but it’s still something that needs mentioning.
The iW3 is a nice-sized speaker at 117mm W x 238mm H x 117mm D and weighs only 998 g. My tester is all black plastic and mesh, with a chrome base, but it’s also available in red. It’s got a rechargeable lithium-ion battery that offers impressive playing time on a full charge, and it’ll charge your iDevice when you plug it into the speaker with the USB/30-pin connector.
Setup is easy. There are two separate parts to the setup, firstly you need to go and download the iHome Set app from the Apple App Store and launch it.
Next, you simply plug the dock in and set the speaker on it. Connect the speaker to your iPhone, or iPad via the 30-pin connector – note, iPhone 5 users will need to purchase the Lightening-30-pin adapter. Turn it on via the slider power button on the back and then press the button beside that which says “network setup”. It’ll find your wireless network and all you have to do is tell it to “Allow” use of the network. The iW3 works on 802.11 b/g network, and it’ll take a minute or two for the speaker to sync up with your network, but then when you select iTunes to listen to some music, you select the AirPlay icon and the “iHome iW3”.
You can play the iW3 either wirelessly, or use the USB to 30-pin connector cable to connect to your iDevice.
Once you’re listening to your music you’ll be surprised at the quality of sound the iW3 delivers. The iW3 offers something called SRS WOW HD, which improves audio playback significantly. The speaker has a great bass sound but also you can clearly hear the highs. Reson8® sealed speaker chambers are designed to deliver that bass and clarity, and the 100-240 V AC adapter works pretty well anywhere. It has an additional aux-in jack so allow you to listen audio sources like your computer or a CD player.
You don’t get a dedicated remote with the iW3, you can control on/off, volume up and down, fast forward and reverse and pause all by the lit buttons on the top of the speaker. Or you can simply use the iTunes controls on your phone or iPod or iPad. It’s nice to be able to control things directly on the speaker, but I’ve never done it in all the time I’ve had it to test out, the iPhone is much more convenient for me. I’ve been listening to it a lot and have really come to appreciate the quality of sound the iW3 can deliver and the portability of the speaker.
PROS: AirPlay compatible; small footprint with big sound; great battery life; decent pricing.
CONS: It’d be nice if it also worked with the 802.11/n network, so at least it’d be compatible with the fastest Wi-Fi being used; because it’s AirPlay compatible only, you’ve obviously got to have a solid Wi-Fi network – if your network’s flaky, your reception through the speaker will also be flaky.
TO SUM IT UP: The iHome iW3 is a nice AirPlay speaker that offers good sound, good value and a modern appearance. It’s battery life makes it a very convenient speaker to use at the cabin, on the deck, wherever you want to hear your music on a good quality speaker and not have any wires running around.